We can approach this theme on a small scale (microscopic) and on a large scale (telescopic). In Freedom, Franzen certainly tries to craft characters that are representative of what it's like to live in 21st century America. So, um, this points us right to depression, ennui, and the disintegration of traditional family dynamics. At the same time, each character opens to us to a larger sense of what America means today (telescopic). It's what people often call the Zeitgeist , or the spirit of an age. So through Walter we learn about big environmental issues, Joey leads us to consider the Iraq War, and Richard vents about the corrosive nature of American consumer culture.
Questions About Visions of America
Compare the introductory and concluding sections of the book, bracketing the main narrative within. What should we take away from these portraits of America? Are things getting better or worse? Or do things always just sort of stay the same?
How do you read the section where Walter is harassed by the racist person in the West Virginia restaurant? Is this a fair representation of American intolerance?
We know how Joey reacts to 9/11, but his sister Jessica responds off-stage, so to speak. How do you imagine her response to the tragedy?
Project the characters five or ten years into the future. How do you think they're doing? What about the powerful players like Vin Haven, Kenny Bartles, and Jonathan's father? What happens to them in the Obama administration and beyond?